From the Dean: No going back

The growth of virtual rather than face-to-face communications and interactions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic continues at a dizzying pace. Recently I was talking with the developer of a software product that is able to analyze millions of patient records and use artificial intelligence to develop improved patient management strategies. He recounted a recent event when he was on a Zoom call related to his company and his two high school daughters also were in the same room at their home, each on their own Zoom calls. It turns out that one daughter was Zooming with a classmate but they were stuck on a math problem. The person that the developer was speaking with overheard the Zoom conversation of the daughter and offered to help with the math question. Problem solved in a few minutes, thanks to simultaneous Zoom sessions! Now that’s a new world!

And truthfully, I don’t think we’re going back to the “old” world. That isn’t to say that I think all of medicine—or medical education—will be online from now on. But I do think that we in health education and in clinical care delivery have learned that virtual education and care can complement and supplement direct contact. For example, some of the feedback that we’ve received from pre-clinical medical students is that they actually enjoy meeting virtually because it is so much easier to ask a question or discuss an issue by using the “Chat” function of the video session as opposed to the “old” method of raising your hand, being recognized, and then asking the question. We will have more detailed information about this following the School’s Annual Medical Curriculum Retreat that is occurring today. But preliminary test result data suggest that our current COVID-19 era students are performing as well or even better than past students. By the way, from my standpoint, I find the Chat function to be a little disconcerting since it requires me to split my attention between the screen, the audio, and the written text box. But apparently not so for our (younger) students! Oh well, another sign of aging, I guess.

In any event, that’s what we are hearing in feedback. But I do find it somewhat reassuring, since our incoming medical students starting next month will get their initial experience here only virtually. Because of the new curriculum we are introducing this coming academic year, our first-year medical students are starting earlier than usual. Their first day will be Monday, July 6, 2020, a month earlier than usual. And speaking of virtual, Susan and I are planning a virtual reception for the incoming medical students during their first week “here.” We usually hold the event in the North Dakota Museum of Art, but this year we will host it from home using a Zoom or similar link. The UND Alumni Association & Foundation (UNDAAF) hosted a similar virtual reception following a recent UNDAAF board meeting, and it went surprisingly well. So we’re going to give it a try with our medical student Class of 2024. I’ll report back afterward.

Finally, I know that you will join me in wishing all the best to Professor Othman Ghribi, who will be retiring from UND and the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the end of this month. Othman has been an extremely productive investigator, fantastic teacher, and wonderful university citizen. He will be missed. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences